OpinionIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

Abbas’s message of hopelessness and hostility at the UN

It is truly sad that the Palestinian people are devoid of a unified and authoritative leadership capable of genuinely representing them.

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas addresses the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 26, 2019. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak.
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas addresses the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 26, 2019. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak.
Alan Baker (JCPA)
Alan Baker
Amb. Alan Baker is director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Anybody reading or listening to Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s statement to the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 24 could not but be taken back to the almost identical statement made by then-head of the PLO Yasser Arafat at the 2001 Durban Conference.

Evidently, nothing has changed in the Palestinian message and narrative.

Abbas presented the same re-hashing of the familiar Palestinian accusations, clichés and buzzwords of racism, colonialism, apartheid, nakba and ethnic cleansing. The same unceasing whining about having been neglected by the international community; misrepresentation of and delusional reliance on old, non-binding UNGA resolutions, none of which have any legal authority or practical relevance. And the same threats—to continue their “peaceful popular resistance” of rocket-fire, terror infiltration, stabbings, ecological and agricultural terror, or their campaign against Israel via international juridical bodies.


Commemorating the 73rd anniversary of the “Nakba,” the “catastrophe” of Israel’s creation, Abbas’s opening claim that “more than half the Palestinian people were uprooted from their land and deprived of their property” in 1948 was a deliberate and cynical misrepresentation of the facts. Abbas implied that Israel woke up one morning in 1948 and decided, in one fell swoop and for no reason, to ethnically cleanse Arab residents from the area.

He deliberately inverted the historical narrative and misled the General Assembly into ignoring decades of concerted and organized violence by irregular Arab groups and forces against Jewish communities, including massacres of Jews residing in towns and villages in 1920, 1921, 1929, 1936, and 1938 all aimed at terrorizing the Jewish residents and removing any Jewish presence from the area.

‘Right of Return’

Abbas accused Israel of violating the “right of Palestine refugees to return to their homeland … to recover their properties and receive just compensation, most notably enshrined in General Assembly resolution 194 (III).” In fact, he misled the General Assembly into believing that there exists such a “right of return” and that resolution 194 (III) created such a right.

The truth is that the resolution is no more than a non-obligatory recommendation, like all General Assembly resolutions, and cannot create legal rights. It was adopted in 1948 and, as stated in its fifth paragraph, was intended to serve as a basis to assist the governments and authorities concerned “to seek agreement by negotiations … with a view to the final settlement of all questions outstanding between them.”

The resolution recommended in its eleventh paragraph that:

“[R]efugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.”

The language of this provision creates no right but merely an option for those refugees wishing to return and to live at peace with their neighbors.

Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan

Abbas accused Israel of ethnic cleansing in “unlawfully and forcibly displacing Palestinians from Shiekh Jarrah and Silwan in Jerusalem.” This allegation misrepresented the truth and concealed from the General Assembly that claims of legitimate land ownership by both Arab and Jewish residents of those areas are presently under consideration in Israel’s courts.

‘Occupation of Palestinian Territory’

Abbas’s cynical reference to “the passing of 54 years since Israel’s military occupation of the rest of the Palestinian territory in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in 1967” was intended to mislead the General Assembly and implied that the whole Israel’s sovereign territory is, in his eyes and the eyes of the Palestinian narrative, “occupied Palestinian territory.”

This is a distortion of fact and law and a significant violation of a central Palestinian acknowledgment of Israel’s right to exist and of their commitment to negotiate a peaceful resolution of the dispute set out in the Sept. 9, 1993 letter from Arafat to Israeli Prime Minister Rabin.

There has never been any sovereign Palestinian entity from which territory was taken by Israel. There have never been any international authoritative, binding, legal determination, resolution, or other documents that grant territory to the Palestinian people. On the contrary, the areas administered by Israel since 1967 have, from the start, been considered—even by the Palestinian leadership—to be disputed territory, the fate of which is to be negotiated in permanent-status negotiations agreed to in the 1993-5 Oslo Accords.

Oslo Accords

Abbas’s illusion of being committed to the Oslo Accords, “to all its elements to this day,” and of “agreeing to every call and initiative to achieve a political solution on the basis of international legitimacy,” is particularly cynical in light of the periodic waves of terror bombings, rockets, stabbings and incitement to terror. Then there are the official Palestinian sponsorship and support of BDS and the international attempts to bypass and undermine the negotiating process, and to undermine the legitimacy of Israel and its leadership.

His repeated reference to a “political solution on the basis of international legitimacy” is a familiar cliché in the vocabulary of the Palestinian leadership, indicating a preference to bypass solid legal commitments in existing agreements and preferring instead to rely on thousands of non-binding, politically generated resolutions of the General Assembly and other international organizations.

Abbas tried to pay lip service to international commitments by boasting before the UNGA that the Palestinians have a “full-fledged state with institutions that act in accordance with the principles of accountability and transparency, democracy and pluralism, respect for human rights and empowerment of women and youth,” and that they honor obligations under U.N. resolutions. In addition, he boasted of having acceded to 115 legal instruments and international organizations.

However, he overlooked the fundamental Palestinian violations of some of the most important international humanitarian norms. Violations such as supporting and encouraging international terror, advocating economic boycotts, violating conventions against agricultural and environmental terror, the use of children in armed conflict, holding hostages and the use of torture against his own people.

‘Assistance to families of prisoners and martyrs’

In violation of U.N. resolutions and international conventions criminalizing the financing of terror, Abbas blatantly and unabashedly defended and justified the “pay to slay” policies of his administration. The P.A. provides salaries to prisoners convicted of acts of terror and murder, knowing that such payments serve as incentive and encouragement for more acts of terror.

‘Two-State Solution’

Abbas accused Israeli governments of “evading the two-state solution based on international law and U.N. resolutions.” However, there exists no international or bilateral Israeli-Palestinian commitment in any of the agreed-upon instruments between Israel and the Palestinians to any “two-state solution.” The so-called solution, in effect, remains nothing more than wishful thinking—both for Abbas as well as for many international leaders.

The Oslo Accords set out an agreed formula for Israel and the Palestinian leadership to negotiate the permanent status of the disputed territories. The Accords do not determine whether such a resolution will be one, two, three, or four states or whether the outcome will be a federation, confederation, condominium or co-imperium.

1947 Partition Plan

Abbas’s attempt to resuscitate the defunct 1947 UNGA Resolution 181 (II) by misrepresenting its content and status added to the delusional nature of his statement. The resolution indeed recommended the establishment of two states, one Arab and one Jewish—but made no reference to any “State of Palestine.” Despite the willingness of the pre-state leadership of Israel to accept the resolution, it was rejected by the Arab League states, which preferred to invade the territory of the nascent State of Israel. Resolution 181 never entered into force.

Abbas’s threat to refer to the International Court of Justice

The repetition of the threat to appeal to international juridical bodies as a means of bypassing the negotiation process and unilaterally prejudging the outcome of the dispute is indicative of a lack of understanding on the part of the Palestinian leadership and those advising Abbas as to the status and powers of the ICJ, as set out in its Statute and Rules.


It is indeed sad that the Palestinian people are devoid of a unified and authoritative leadership capable of genuinely representing them—both vis-à-vis Israel as well as vis-à-vis the international community.

To come to the UNGA with wild, delusional, misleading and misguided accusations and threats does not serve the interests of peace, and does not advance the chances of a return to peace negotiations one iota. Mahmoud Abbas, in his recent statement, is deluding the international community, and as such, abusing each and every member state, as well as the United Nations itself.

A unified and responsible Palestinian leadership must come to the international community with clean hands and with the capability and willingness to genuinely seek peace through peaceful, bona fide dialogue, and not through lies and threats.

Alan Baker is director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center and the head of the Global Law Forum. He participated in the negotiation and drafting of the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians, as well as agreements and peace treaties with Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. He served as legal adviser and deputy director-general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry and as Israel’s ambassador to Canada.

This article was first published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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